It’s time for atomic clocks everywhere

I got a satellite clock for my birthday a few years ago. Sometimes they’re advertised as “Atomic Clocks,” but since they run on a little nine-volt battery, and since most people are a little skitzy about having nuclear plants in the home, that’s just a sales gimmick. Like a giant restaurant chain that calls its food “home-cooked.” If it tastes like the same crap I get at home, why would I go there? I want something better than home-cooked, thank you very much.

They sell atomic clocks in the fancy gadget catalogs, the kind that mainly sell gadgets to store your gadgets in as well as motivational plaques that cost $300. Just what I want over my computer, a large picture of a beautiful sunset that reads, “Because.” It would have motivated me more if the boss had given me $300 instead of the stupid plaque. The only thing the plaque did was motivate me to get into the motivational-plaque business.

Anyway, atomic clocks get the time from a satellite and sync it with the clock. They keep perfect time and change automatically from Standard to Daylight Saving and back. Every time our electricity goes out, we set all our other clocks from the atomic clock. Because it runs on a battery it doesn’t rely on our spotty electricity, and I haven’t changed the battery in three years. I just saw an online ad for one of these clocks – it sells for $11.



So here’s my question: Why should I have to spend two days going around my house setting the clocks every time the electricity flickers? Why isn’t the atomic clock on my microwave? Why isn’t the clock on my oven? Why aren’t all the clocks, or things with clocks on them, in my house atomic clocks?

If I can get an atomic clock for $11, how much do you think a stove manufacturer would have to pay for just the parts that keep the time? Not the case, not the hands, not the numbers, just the tiny chip that actually keeps the time. A dime? A quarter? A buck? “But gee, that would raise the price of our $1,200 stove by $1. We wouldn’t be competitive any more.” Really?

When the cat wakes me up in the middle of the night for its 3 a.m. feeding, the house is dark except for the hundred small red and green lights on all our electrical appliances. It’s as if they are telling me, “We’re still sucking electricity while you sleep! Thanks.” Most of those appliances have digital clocks on them. My paper shredder, my phone, my desk lamp all have clocks on them. Why couldn’t they be atomic clocks?

I’m not just thinking of myself. What about the children? The next generation is sure to have more clocks around the house than we do.

“What? You bought a vacuum cleaner without a clock?”

“Honey, what time does the sofa have?” “Dad, there’s something wrong with my basketball. It says it’s 2 a.m.”

Our extra bedroom full gadgets that no longer work or have become obsolete or have one little thing wrong with them. Stereo amplifiers that work fine, but they don’t have enough jacks for everything I want to plug into them. VHS players. Turntables. Cassette players. I have a feeling that all of things in my house with old-fashioned digital clocks will end up there soon. Along with a lot of this year’s must-have products – a flower vase that’s also a phone. An MP3 player that’s also an electric shaver. A refrigerator that lets you send and receive text messages. A garbage can that e-mails the grocery store what you just threw away.

Maybe not those exact products, but something like them. But never my atomic clock. It’s a keeper.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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